The Jacksonville City Council committee has approved a $100,000 budget to renovate the upper two floors of the Florida Theatre, which have code violations and are in need of repair.
Some City Council members, however, don’t agree when the $100,000 should be forked over, and who will get to rent the space once it’s up to code.
“(It needs) new carpet, paint job and most important ADA compliance so the floors would be up to code,” said Numa Saisselin, president of the Florida Theatre. “It’s an 85-year-old building, so there’s a little bit of work to be done, although nothing major.”
The plan is to create office areas on the theater's ground floor, then rent the space.
“Right now, we have a roughly 40,000-square-foot office building that’s largely empty, and if we could fill that with people, there would obviously be an economic benefit on a daily basis,” said Saisselin.
It sounded like a great plan to council members, until the council president, who proposed the legislation, said the floors would be leased by arts and education groups.
“When we get tenants in there we can start generating revenue,” said City Council President Bill Guilliford. “That revenue can be plowed into renovating more floors in the building, and hopefully we’ll have that building filled up in a fairly short span of time, and I think it just adds to the vibrancy of downtown.”
At $8 per square foot, leasing the space made sense to the City Council. But some members said with no lease in hand and no tenants signed on to move in, all the money shouldn't be handed over at once.
Gulliford said he believes potential tenants need a reason to rent first.
“My feeling is, get it fixed up so somebody that comes in there and looks at it sees a space that they can immediately occupy,” said Gulliford.
The compromise? Completing the most urgent repairs and waiting on securing a tenant before cosmetic work is done on the floors in question.